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Thursday, 25 January 2018 05:16

R.M. of Swift Current approves expansion of much debated gravel pit

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The Rural Municipality (R.M.) of Swift Current No. 137 has approved a development permit for the expansion of an existing gravel pit that has been the focus of opposition by a group of residents.

Council voted in favour of the application at a regular meeting on Dec. 12, 2017, and the development permit to the applicant, Head Holdings Ltd. and Ed Wiens, was issued on Jan. 10, 2018.
Reeve Bob Neufeld spoke to the Prairie Post about the decision, but he emphasized his remarks only reflect his own opinion and not that of other councillors. He noted the application to expand the gravel pit met with requirements and it was therefore granted.
“It’s set down in our bylaws what he has to meet for requirements and he met them all,” he said.
The new permit, which is valid until Jan. 10, 2020, will allow the applicant to expand the gravel pit from 10 to 80 acres. The pit is located east of the Swift Current Airport and adjacent to the municipal boundary road with the neighbouring R.M. of Coulee No. 136.
The permit specified various conditions or development standards that must be followed by the applicant. All pit activity are restricted to operation hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and no activities are allowed on Sundays. The property has to be surveyed and pinned with steel T-posts on the western boundary. All activities related to the gravel pit, including overburden piles, stock piles and crushing, have to take place within these boundaries.
Any exploratory holes must be filled in within 30 days after excavation. The area that will be disturbed by the gravel pit operations must be rehabilitated in accordance with the provincial reclamation guidelines for sand and gravel operators.
Neufeld said these permit conditions were included as a result of concerns raised at a public hearing for this application. The R.M. of Swift Current recently appointed a community safety officer who will also be the bylaw enforcement officer, and he will investigate any concerns about compliance with bylaws or development permits.
“He will be on full-time duty,” he noted. “We have hired him together with a couple of other R.M.’s. He’ll be working in the neighbouring R.M.’s as well as in our R.M.”
Greg McLean is a spokesperson for the group of area residents who have expressed concerns about this gravel pit operation.
“We're concerned that the expansion pit has been approved, and we're very concerned about the lack of response and answers to our questions originating from the original pit,” he said.
The public hearing for the application to expand the gravel pit took place in October 2017. Twelve area residents attended the hearing in council chambers and 37 signatures of objection were submitted, including a few detailed letters of objection from individual residents.
The concerns raised at the public hearing include noise from the operation of heavy machinery, excessive dust, bright lights during night-time pit operations, and an increase in heavy truck traffic.
There were references to the impact of the gravel pit operation on their rural lifestyle, and they were worried that council was considering an application for expansion while their previous concerns about the gravel pit have not been addressed.
“So what's already happened is still a concern and now you want to add more to it,” McLean said. “So there's a two-pronged approach here. We haven't got our last questions answered, and we don't want anymore of this going forward unless there's some serious answers to questions and serious discussions, especially since he wants to expand to 80 acres.”
The group of concerned residents obtained legal counsel after a previous presentation to council in May 2017, and there has been correspondence with the R.M. of Swift Current.
“In our last request from our lawyer, there were 14 points that we asked for specific answers and/or documentation and/or information,” he said. “Of the 14 matters we've asked to be dealt with, less than three were really satisfactory identified and responded to.”
According to McLean, the R.M. of Swift Current's decision to pave Airport Road will help to address the group's concern about excessive dust from increased heavy truck traffic, but there are still their other concerns about the actual gravel pit operation.
He welcomes the condition in the new development permit for the expansion of the pit that will restrict the hours of operation, as well as the requirement for the reclamation of the gravel pit. However, the group feels their other concerns have been overlooked.
“We believe that the whole application process was incomplete and not sufficient, because in the bylaws there's very specific and a very detailed list of all things that should be part of the application,” he said.
The group of concerned residents will be meeting to consider their options after the R.M of Swift Current's decision to approve the expansion of the gravel pit.
“There's always the possibility of an appeal,” he said. “We have a number of options on our plate.”

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Matthew Liebenberg